At the turn of the millennium, Eric Brende took bold action. Long concerned about the detrimental effects of technology on the human condition, he decided to test his theory. Brende was a graduate student at M.I.T. and decided to write his Master’s thesis by living with an Amish community for eighteen months. He and his wife Mary gave up washer, dryer, refrigerator, microwave, electric lights, computers, air conditioning, central heat, power mower, and running water. Last to go was his Ford Escort, replaced by a mare named Isabel and a wagon.
Brende writes in a humorous, insightful style often describing the kindness of the Amish community. I enjoyed his description of the day he bought his horse–and-buggy. He sat high atop the seat, tipping and bumping down a slope, trying not to panic. A gust of wind sent sprinkles of horse sweat into this face.
It became a joy to reenter the world of sensory objects that is cut off from the driver of a car. You could actually touch the hedgerows slowly moving by the driver. You could literally converse with the human figures in their yards. The wagon was a kind of moving front porch.
Is life better without smartphones, wide-screen televisions, and Twitter?
That is a good question. Just asking the question is food for thought. Observe as the unsuspecting pedestrian stares at a smartphone, oblivious to the world and people around him. See children at restaurants playing video games on laptops, detached from all conversations, hypnotized by pixels.
Scenes like these should give us pause for thought.
In his real-life experiment, Brende shows that life with reduced technology can help alleviate stress and increase our enjoyment of life.
Brende gives practical tips on ways to minimize the dominance of technology in day to day living. Oh, by the way, he does practice what he preaches. Currently Eric and his family live in St. Louis, Missouri where he earns money driving a pedal-powered rickshaw taxi and makes soap.
Read this book. You will be better off for the time invested.